Sunday, January 10, 2021

Where have all the students gone?

In March 2020 last year, because of the worsening Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippine education officials suspended the classes in all schools, and students were advised to go home. Suddenly, the normally vibrant university and college campuses have turned into empty and lonely places. At the Visayas State University in Baybay City, Leyte, where more than half of the university student population reside in dormitories inside the campus, the impact of the indefinite suspension of classes has been dramatic. The campus appears desolate. The only positive effect of the pandemic is the regeneration of the natural environment. One wonders where the students have gone, and when they are coming back. Below are some photos of some parts of the 100-hectare campus that I have taken during this pandemic:

This is the main street in the lower campus after entering the gate. On normal days, traffic is heavy here.

This is the old Palomaria street that goes straight to the beach, a normally busy street before 
the pandemic.

The street near the guest house, apartelle, and pavilion where tourists can be seen strolling.

The normally very busy intersection near the Ecopark, Agronomy and Soil Science, 
College of Management and Economics, and University Library.

The street leading to the Cocofed dormitories. Before the suspension of classes, 
students filled this street even during evenings and weekends.

The VSU beach along the Camotes Sea. On a fine day before the pandemic, the beach 
was the favorite hangout for students and tourists.

The VSU beach resort. Before the pandemic, the resort was always fully booked for weddings, 
birthdays, reunions, and conferences.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The best research universities in the Philippines in 2020

The best research universities in the Philippines are the University of the Philippines Diliman, University of the Philippines Manila, University of the Philippines Los Banos, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines Visayas, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, University of San Carlos, Visayas State University, Silliman University, and Central Luzon State University.

The University of the Philippines Diliman is the country's best research university
(Photo source:

Except Silliman University, all 11 universities are members of the prestigious National Science Consortium of the Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute implementing the Accelerated Science and Technology Human Resource Development Program (ASTHRDP) graduate scholarships.

The ranking is based on the total number of publications and total ResearchGate Score (or RG Score) of each university extracted from ResearchGate this January 2020. The number of publications refers to the publications of ResearchGate members from each university while the RG Score is based on the research outcome appearing in the researchers’ profile and their interactions with other members and the reputation of their peers.

As can be seen from the table, the ranking changes especially in the lower 6 to 12 positions when it is based on the RG Score instead of total publications. It can be argued that the total publication is a more reliable basis of ranking the universities than the RG Score because of the lack of transparency on how the score is calculated. There are of course scientists who prefer to use the RG Score because it indicates the researchers’ impact.

ResearchGate is the world’s largest and most popular scholarly network with over 15 million members and access to more than 130 million publications.

Note: This is a ranking based on the research data (publications and RG score) for the Philippine universities that are available and easily accessible at ResearchGate. The author gathered the data and made the ranking. ResearchGate does not make rankings of institutions or scientists.--VBA 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Research without borders: Humboldt Conference 2019, Bangkok, Thailand

The First Southeast Asian Humboldt Kolleg (Conference) organized by the Humboldt Clubs (or Associations) of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam and hosted by the Humboldt Club of Thailand led by its president, Prof. Wanchai De-Eknamkul, was held on 19-21 December 2019 at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

With the theme “Southeast Asian Research Without Borders”, the scientific conference was part of the global celebrations honoring the 250th birth anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt, one of the greatest and most celebrated scientists of the 19th century. It was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the National Research Council of Thailand.

Humboldt fellows from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as well as some guests from
SE Asia and Germany 

Humboldtians are outstanding scientists who have been awarded the world-renowned Humboldt Research Fellowships (and Humboldt Research Awards for the few world-leading scientists) by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation based in Bonn, Germany. Selections for the fellowships are highly competitive. 
“There are no quotas, neither for individual countries nor for particular academic disciplines. Only the excellent scientific performance of the applicant counts” ( Fellows receive support from the Foundation for life. Until now only 30 scientists in the Philippines have received the prestigious Humboldt fellowship.

Nine (9) Filipino Humboldtians attended the Bangkok conference. They were Dr. Christopher C. Bernido and Dr. Maria Victoria Bernido (University of San Carlos in Cebu City/Research Center for Theoretical Physics, Bohol), Dr. Rafael Espiritu (De la Salle University), Dr. Arnold Hallare (U.P. Manila), Dr. Maribel Dionisio-Sese (U.P. Los Banos), Dr. Allan Patrick Macabeo (University of Santo Tomas), Dr. Ian Navarrete (Ateneo de Manila University) and Dr. Victor B. Asio and Dr. Erlinda Vasquez (Visayas State University).

The Philippine delegation (L-R): Dr. Hallare, Dr. C. Bernido, Dr. M. Bernido, Dr Sese, Dr. Vasquez, Dr. V. Asio,
Dr. Navarrete, Dr. Espiritu, Dr. L. Asio and Dr. Macabeo 

Dr. Chris Bernido (Ramon Magsaysay Awardee in 2010) was one of the four Outstanding Humboldtians from SE Asia who were recognized during the conference. Dr. Asio, the president of Humboldt Club Philippines, presented a paper on the status of the Humboldt Club in the Philippines and served as a plenary session moderator. All the other Filipino Humboldtians gave oral presentations on topics in their field of research.

The conference organizers invited a few non-Humboldtian researchers from the five countries as well as professors from Germany who served as plenary speakers. Dr. Luz G. Asio from the Department of Agronomy at Visayas State University, was the sole non-Humboldtian participant from the Philippines.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation was established by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany to promote international academic cooperation between excellent scientists and scholars from Germany and from abroad. It is funded by the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as other national and international partners.

Werner Heisenberg, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century (Nobel Prize for Physics 1932 for the creation of quantum mechanics), was the first president of the Foundation after its re-establishment in 1953 until 1975. Feodor Lynen (Nobel Prize for Medicine 1964) and Wolfgang Paul (Nobel Prize for Physics 1989) also served as presidents of the Foundation from 1975-79 and 1979-89, respectively.

The Foundation maintains a global network of more than 29,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in over 140 countries worldwide including 55 Nobel Laureates.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Happy World Soil Day 2019


The faculty, staff and students of the Department of Soil Science (Head: Dr. Suzette B. Lina), College of Agriculture and Food Science of Visayas State University (VSU) in Leyte, Philippines, join the rest of the world in celebrating the World Soil Day (WSD) on December 5, 2019. A seminar and a quiz contest among students are part of the celebration at VSU. 

December 5 of every year was chosen for this important celebration in honor of  the late H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand whose birthday was December 5. King Bhumibol was one of the main proponents of this initiative. The proposal for the establishment of WSD was made by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) in 2002.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations supported its formal establishment as a global awareness-raising platform. In December 2013, the UN General Assembly at the 68th session declared 5 December as World Soil Day. The theme of WSD 2019 is “Stop Soil Erosion, Save our Future”.

There are hundreds of events around the world to celebrate WSD 2019 according to the online map prepared by FAO. In the Philippines, only VSU and Don Mariano Marcos State University (DMMSU) in La Union have organized such events.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Rainforestation farming: concept and history (Part I)

by Victor B. Asio, Dept of Soil Science, VSU

a) The concept

Rainforestation or Rainforestation farming is a concept of rehabilitating degraded lands or restoring forests using native forest tree species. It is based on the hypothesis that an ecosystem is more sustainable when its physical structure and species composition are closer to the local rainforest. The Rainforestation farming concept was first presented in seminars by the authors in 1992 and was first published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Tropical Research in 1994 (Milan and Margraf, 1994). Two years later a chapter on the Rainforestation concept appeared in the international book Dipterocarp Forest Ecosystems: Towards Sustainable Management by World Scientific (Margraf and Milan, 1996).
An idealized sketch of rainforestation about 15 years after its establishment (sketch by R. Dumalag)
The first demonstration sites in Baybay, Leyte were established in 1992. During the early iteration of the concept, spacing and line planting of the trees were considered which were then abandoned by Dr. Margraf because as he always stressed, “nature does not plant trees in straight lines”. Thus, he strongly advocated the random planting of the native trees to simulate a real rainforest. This random planting has thus become a fundamental principle behind the Rainforestation concept. According to the entropy law, the random distribution of tree species should mean more ecosystem stability.

In recent years, the concept has been promoted as a strategy to rehabilitate degraded lands in order to restore the tropical rainforests. In 2004, it was adopted as a national strategy when the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Elisea G. Gozun through a Memorandum Circular 2004-06 ordered the integration of Rainforestation farming strategy in the development of open areas and denuded forests to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in protected areas and other appropriate forest lands.
Photo of the first demonstration site in Mt Pangasugan about 10 years after the establishment
In 2006, the follow-up and monitoring research project funded by GTZ entitled “Rainforestation Farming: Alternative for Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Restoration (P.P. Milan, M.J. Ceniza, V.B. Asio, S.B.Bulayog, and M. Napiza) was recognized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) as the Best Higher Education Institutes (HEI) Research Program. The project provided the needed scientific evidence that the concept was ecologically and economically feasible and now ready for wide-scale dissemination. 

b) Criticisms

From day 1, the concept has met severe and oftentimes unfair criticisms. The earliest criticism that hurt Dr. Margraf was the contention by critics including the ViSCA forestry professors that the originators (Dr. Margraf and Dr. Milan) were neither forest scientists nor vegetation scientists and thus they did not have the expertise to conceptualize a forest restoration strategy. Although valid to some extent, Dr. Margraf was aware of his knowledge limitations so he sought the advice of some of the most brilliant forest science experts in Germany and other countries. 

Another criticism from the agronomists was the use of crops under the “close canopy” demonstration site in that crops require full sunlight to produce yield. As a result, the field staff tried to use fruit trees but this was not very successful as well since the forest trees have the natural tendency to grow tall and cover the fruit trees below. Agroforestry specialists that visited the demonstration sites also consider the planting of crops and fruit trees in between forest trees as “just another variant of agroforestry”. 

Our CHED-PHERNET project site in Inopacan, Leyte, showing the successful 
establishment of the Rainforestation site although at a very high cost

Some forest science experts generally consider the assisted natural regeneration (ANR) as a better strategy to rehabilitate degraded lands because of its greater potential to rehabilitate vast areas of lands at a minimal cost. 

The project site shown in the previous photo in Inopacan, Leyte, appears just a tiny dot in the middle of the large degraded lands (above photo). The other large green patches are actually revegetated through the natural growth of shrubs and trees implying the potential of ANR. 

Lastly, there is a widespread notion that many landowners are only interested to adopt Rainforestation in order to plant hardwood native trees that they could harvest and earn high profits in the future. The fact that a few of the original demonstration sites for the concept established in 1994 have already been harvested by the landowners supports this apprehension. Thus, some people doubt whether this will eventually lead to long-term forest rehabilitation in the country. This should be a big challenge to the Institute of Tropical Ecology and Environmental Management (ITEEM) and other institutions promoting the concept.

To cite this article: Asio, V.B. 2019. Rainforestation farming: concept and history. http: soil-environment 

A peer-reviewed article on the history of Rainforestation can be downloaded from the Annals of Tropical Research


The author (V.B. Asio) has been actively involved in the development and evaluation of the Rainforestation concept from the 1990s until the present. He was a member of the Project Management Core Group of the ViSCA-GTZ Applied Tropical Ecology Project, and later was the first Head of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Division of the Institute of Tropical Ecology. The Core Group members were Dr. M.J.C. Ceniza, Dr. B.B. Dargantes, Dr. R.C. Guarte, Dr. J.M. Quimio, Dr. B.P. Germano & Dr. V.B. Asio.